The World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings tell us that gender parity is over 200 years away but what does this mean for me and the majority of you, the women and men reading this article?Many of you will feel that we have already achieved gender parity in the UK, we all have access to the same educational curriculum, we all, we are told, have equal opportunities to move into higher education and whichever career we want, we can, if we wish, choose whether to have children. But is that really true, can it really be that the only area in the UK where we still need to create true parity is the gender pay gap - currently at 9% for full time work but 19% for all employment.
Over the next month, we will see the inside workings of the gender pay gap; at least in respect of companies with over 250 employees who legally have to publish their gender pay gap and bonus gaps, by pay range. 8000 businesses have to publish and so far only around 1000 have, with figures from the BBC, Barclays and Easyjet amongst others, creating anger and disbelief amongst female employees and the wider world.
Many of the facts we are seeing, such as 81% of the best paid employees at Barclays being men, will lead us to ask the question "Why is this still the case in 2018?"
My take on some of the answers is below.
In the UK, the number of mothers in employment has tripled since 1951. In the early sixties, women in teaching, banking, nursing and many other careers, had to give up work when they got married. Career dead, finished. It was only as we moved through the seventies that we started to see some women establishing themselves in careers and returning to work once children were at school. It took another 20 years before it was common practice for mothers to only take a one or two year career break. It therefore follows that until very recently, women were just not moving up through the ranks in the same numbers as men.
Fast forward to now and you would think that woman might have caught up. Certainly in 2011, figures showed that women in their twenties were gaining more first class degrees and earning equal per full time hour to men. But alarmingly, this age group now has a widening pay gap, increasing from 1.1% in 2011 to 5.5% now. Of real concern is the fact that the pay gap in full time pay for women over 40 is 19%.
At our Oysters and Pearls events, Role and many wonderful Lancashire women in jobs across all industries spend the day with groups of16 year old girls who have not achieved A - C grades at GCSE. Most of the girls we mentor are learning social care and beauty. We look across the corridors to the construction and vehicle mechanics classes filled with 16 year old boys who also did not achieve 5 A-C grades at GCSE. These boys once qualified, will earn double what the girls do. Now, you might argue that those girls don't want to do outdoor bricklaying or oily car repairs and I fully accept that the majority won't, but why do we pay car mechanics twice as much to fix a car as we pay care workers to teach our pre school children or care for our parents?
This is where the gender pay gap springs from. The fact that in the UK we do not value care. (87% of the people who work in care are women and it is the fastest growing industry in the UK). We also do not value the care mothers provide during the first years of a child's life and we know it's the women providing this, only 5% of men have elected to take parental leave.
In Sweden, parents share parental leave, with 80% of their salary paid for 13 months after their child is born. Fathers have to take minimum 3 months off and the Swedish government are considering increasing it to 5 months. That's the type of policy that eradicates the gender pay gap. However, you might argue that Sweden still has a gender pay gap of 5% and that the health and care industries still employ 80% women whilst the trades and computer programming industries employ 80% men. We cannot alter nature. Women nurture, men make stuff. Don't get mad here and tell me to stop generalising, Sweden, where everything possible including quotas, has been done to reach parity, is living proof. What we can do something about is how we value caring based occupations and how much we pay people for doing them.
But parity is not just about pay - it is about a level playing field in career progression, sharing the housework and sharing care of children and parents, it's about respecting women and men equally - from behind closed doors, to film and in the media and on a train and on Facebook. Ultimately parity is down to each individual and the examples they have seen as a child and way they have been influenced by their peer group and the messages they see everyday. Each one of us can help to create the conditions in which parity will thrive, even if what we are doing seems like only a small thing. Making sure your son does his fair share of the ironing, encouraging your daughter to look at engineering because she's great at maths, asking for a pay rise, speaking to your MP about the cost of childcare. You may not think that on a global scale, this will reduce the 217 years we need to achieve parity, but as Van Gogh said "Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."
If you'd like to debate parity with me and a 50/50 panel on the 8th March at the Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce International Women's Day event, which is an event open to men and women, please follow this link https://tinyurl.com/y767njaf
If you enjoy my blogs, you can read more of my work in my book available here www.amazon.co.uk/Words-Walks-Wisdom-Wendy-Bowers/dp/1671172353